I won’t go into all the ways Dubravka shaped my life—how she helped me put together my first book of fiction, a collection of rewritten stories, like her own Lend Me Your Character; the forceful advice when I needed it that won over the woman I would later marry. I hope someone else in this issue talks about how the patchwork novel Steffie Cvek in the Jaws of Life [collected within Lend Me Your Character], stitched together out of women’s magazines, sewing patterns, dialects, storylines, ideologies, and clichés, is the best postmodern feminist novel ever written, and by far the funniest. But I do want to describe the two things Dubravka said that I think about all the time, to this day.
She took me along to a dinner with one of what she always called her “countrymen”—a former-Yugoslavian, in several senses, washed up in Amsterdam and making his way as best he could. He was kind, in a way that didn’t seem quite right: a little too Buddhist, a little too California. You could see all the work he had done to convince himself, or at least Dubravka could. I liked meeting him, but Dubravka was fuming, furious: she couldn’t stand the forgiveness shtick. “No sympathy for jerks!” she announced to the canal and me on the walk home. “I’m not fuckin’ Dostoyevsky!”
She also told me that no one should be allowed to publish fiction or poetry—no one had the right to expect to be read—until they had done some service to other writers: as an editor, professor, publisher, translator, critic. It’s a beautiful vision, not of hard-honed craft but community, the global cultural citizenship that so much of her work proves and champions. It is tragic how little the world seems to go along with her, unless those historical upheavals she lived through and our idiocracy of culture are what create that vision in the first place. No glorious non-Dostoyevskies without jerks to non-sympathize with, no heroine of civilization without the barbarism. None of her humor without everything she has to laugh at. It’s not fair to her, but, as I can hear her say in her wonderful low voice, “No one ever said life is fair!” She can take it.